How to Sign a Painting Like a Professional: Must-Know Tips

how to sign a painting like a professional

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An artist’s signature is a prestigious and striking final touch in the art world. As such, worrying about how good yours looks is understandable.

I’ve been painting for years – both professionally and personally – and I know firsthand the power of making a work feel ‘complete’. Like framing your painting, a signature can completely change how you look at your art.

There are many benefits to signing your acrylic or oil painting properly. Below I’ll explore how to sign a painting, where to put it, and much more.

How to Sign Your Painting Like a Professional

Applying a signature is a simple yet intimidating process. It’s almost as nerve-racking as naming your painting. I’ll help you start crafting artist signatures with the step-by-step guide below.

Step #1: Practice Your Signature First

It’s essential to practice a signature until it feels second nature. If you don’t get used to it, your signatures may look too different from each other.

You can dedicate a few sketchbook pages to signature practice and date them to record your progress. You can also practice your signature for quick studies or small paintings before committing to a larger work.

practice your signature

Step #2: Choose Your Signing Medium

Be considerate when choosing a signing medium, as the wrong one could clash with the painting. For example, a wet paint signature on a dry acrylic painting may rub off before it dries properly.

Experiment with thick paint or a fine tip in thin paint for different line weights. If you don’t want to sign acrylic or oil paintings with your brush, you can also try oil-based markers or a paint pen. These signing mediums don’t smudge, fade, and work for many painting mediums.

Step #3: Wait For Your Painting to Dry

Once you start signing your painting, the painting needs to dry first so the signature doesn’t smudge or blend. Watercolor paintings and acrylic paintings tend to dry fast, while oil paintings may need several days before they’re ready.

Step #4: Consider Using a Charcoal Pencil First

Still unsure about putting down a consistent signature? You can try a charcoal pencil base, then paint over it with acrylic paint or oil paint.

This method is helpful because you can wipe off the signature and reapply it before committing. You can also use tracing paper if you already created a perfectly fine signature. Just remember to wipe off the rest of the charcoal once you’re done.

Step #5: Apply Your Signature in Your Preferred Spot

Once you’ve practiced a little and chosen your signing medium, it’s time to apply your signature. Remember this is a learning process and it’s okay if the signature isn’t super consistent yet.

Why Should I Sign My Paintings?

Signing your paintings serves several purposes for both the artist and a potential buyer. I’ve gathered up the most common (and lucrative) reasons below.

why should I sign my paintings?

Protect Your Identity

An original signature protects your work’s identity from possible theft. Practicing your signature so it looks the same every time takes practice, but you can do it!

Help People Spot Your Work

Your signature can provide a first name, full name, or nickname for people to identify your work. People can look up your name online later to purchase your work or spread good word-of-mouth praise.

Make Your Work Feel More Complete

Your signature adds another little touch that makes a piece feel more ‘complete’. There’s a psychological aspect to wrapping up a work, too.

Some artists have a hard time continuing a piece if there’s a signature on it. If you habitually fuss over details instead of completing a painting, this is a great reason to start signing.

make your work feel more complete
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Increase Your Work’s Value

A signature can make your original paintings more appealing to some buyers because of the additional personal touch. This signature is also great for limited-edition prints to make them more unique.

Remember Your Progress

Some artists like to add timestamps to their paintings to track their progress. They can also put down details like where the picture was made, like a city or inside of a store. However, this is optional and depends on your preference.

Why Would an Artist Not Sign a Painting?

It’s vital to have a well-rounded perspective on signatures. There are a few reasons not to sign, either (and the last one I didn’t know until recently!).

why would an artist not sign a painting?

You’re Not Finished With a Painting Yet

A common reason not to sign a work is because it’s not done. This is psychological, too, and some artists don’t feel able to keep working on a piece if they sign prematurely.

You Don’t Like the Look of the Signature

Some artists just don’t like the appearance of a signature, whether on the front or the back. They may feel it interferes with the mood or style of the piece (or prefer to remain anonymous).

You Want the Painting to Feel Casual

Some artists prefer to sign some works, but not sign others. If the painting is quick, casual, or a study, you may want to save signatures for larger pieces or pieces you plan to sell.

Artworks Submitted to Competitions Must Stay Anonymous

Art submitted to competitions are required to be anonymous. If it has a signature, the event organizers must digitally remove it.

artworks submitted to competitions must stay anonymous

How Do I Make a Signature for My Artwork?

Ready to practice writing? Ideally, a signature should embody a few of the following details:

Keep Your Signature Simple

My biggest tip is don’t make anything too complicated – you’ll do this signature frequently, after all. The last thing you want is to forget how to write your own signature because it’s too complex.

Go for Accuracy

Accuracy is essential, so resist putting down several different names or nicknames. People may get confused when trying to find you if you don’t use the same signature every time.

Make Sure Your Signature is Legible

An illegible signature may work for famous artists, but it will backfire for most artists. A legible signature ensures anyone can identify you, whether they’re viewing a limited edition print or an original piece.

make sure your signature is legible
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Try Out Different Fonts

You can check out different font websites to get creative juices flowing if you need inspiration. Below are a few of my favorite resources (which you don’t need to download, just view):

Bring Out Your Personality

Make sure to create a design that suits your personality – you can also take inspiration from your painting skills or specific art movements. For example, rococo fans may enjoy a bubbly and cursive signature.

Do Artists Use Their Real Signature?

You shouldn’t put your legal signature on your art to avoid identity theft. The artist signature should be unique to artworks only.

Where Should I Put My Artist Signature?

This detail is a huge sticking point for artists since they don’t want the signature to interfere with the work. Here are a few ways to start signing a painting.

Bottom Right or Left-Hand Corner

The bottom right-hand corner is the most common signature location, though some prefer the left-hand corner. Both are predictable for the viewer and feel very refined.

bottom right or left-hand corner
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Back of the Painting

The back of your canvas is another popular choice if you don’t want your signature to get in the way of an elegant oil painting or watercolor painting. I prefer it since I want my art to be the focus, but do what feels right for you.

Within the Painting

A signature inside the painting is a more tricky, yet fun way to sign a work. You can incorporate the signature onto a leaf in a painted forest or the sleeve of a character.

You can achieve this by using the fine point of a thin brush or a compatible signing medium. For example, acrylic markers on an acrylic painting or oil paint markers for an oil painting.

What Should I Use to Sign My Artwork?

There are some go-to supplies for signing an artwork. Below are a few of my favorites (and you can even use them for digital art prints).

Acid-Free Permanent Pen

Acid-free and archival pens for paintings are the top pick for many artists because they won’t fade or discolor over time. These are a must-have when you want to keep your work for a long time or sell it.

acid-free permanent pen
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Acrylic Paint Markers

If you don’t feel comfortable writing with a small brush, I recommend acrylic markers. With some practice, you can still create a signature that appears crafted from paint brushes.

Your Paint of Choice

On the other hand, some artists may feel fine using a paintbrush to sign their work. You can sign using the same medium you painted with, such as oil for an oil painting.

State that the signature shouldn’t use too much water or oil so the paint signature doesn’t run. However, a little paint medium can help you create a smooth and flowing signature (such as terpenoid-based mediums).

Carve Into the Paint

Some artists like to carve a signature into paint with a nib or a palette knife. This technique can be great for paint that’s thick and peels off nicely, like acrylic or oil, but not watercolor paint.

carve into the paint
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Quick Tips for a Strong Artist Signature

Whether you want to sign limited edition digital art prints or original mixed media works, I have a few extra tips.

Never Sign too Close to the Edges

Make sure to sign a few inches above the edge or corner of a painting so a frame does not cover it. If you’re unsure about the ideal location, write your signature onto a scrap of paper and measure it first.

Consider Using a Ruler or Sheet of Paper to Straighten Your Signature

While everyone’s signature is unique, a straight signature looks more professional and polished. Use a ruler or the edge of your sketchbook to straighten things out.

Stick With the Same Placement of Your Signature

You need consistency with a signature – it’s not just the style or initials, but choosing the same spot every time. Your work will look more professional by giving audiences a certain expectation.

Is it Okay to Sign a Painting With a Sharpie?

While a painter could use a Sharpie, I don’t recommend it since Sharpies bleed easily and can affect the rest of the work. Stick with writing in oil paint or using acrylic markers.

is it okay to sign a painting with a sharpie?
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Signing Your Paintings Elevates Them to New Heights

Signing your oil painting or watercolor sketch will transform your work into a polished original. You’ll increase your art’s value in the eyes of the viewer and feel more ‘complete’ yourself!

Artists sign their paintings for many reasons, such as increasing the cost or helping people identify them. To get more comfortable signing paintings or other art skills, consider taking online art courses. These resources help you grow your confidence organically with helpful classes you take at your own pace.

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